There have been a flurry of media reports that China is in the process of activating its first aircraft carrier, and that it conducted its first successful landing of a warplane on that carrier (see first link and second link). Some find this a new sign of China’s new military abilities, but frankly I’m underwhelmed by the publicity and warnings that this represents much of an imminent threat to anyone at this time.
Building an aircraft carrier is one thing. Learning how to operate it with a fully-trained crew and pilots who can land on its deck in the middle of night or storms when the deck is pitching and barely-visible is another thing. China is nowhere close to being able to operate an aircraft carrier like the US Navy can do. The photo of the Chinese warplane on the flight deck of the Chinese carrier  indicates that it landed on a carrier in bright sunlight and on a day when the seas were very smooth (note there are no whitecaps in the ocean behind the ship). It will be a long time until China trains a full crew which can operate the carrier in all weather conditions, train pilots who can land and take-off at night and in bad weather conditions as well as have fully-capable flight deck personnel who can move planes around smoothly on the flight deck and skillfully between the flight deck and the hangar decks lower in the ship. It will also take time to have escort ships fully-trained in how to maneuver and protect a carrier in wartime operations. The USA is highly-skilled in all these naval skills while the Chinese are now taking a few baby-steps in really being able to use their carrier in full combat.
For reader’s information, I’ve included the third link which lists all the nations which operate aircraft carriers and their size (tonnage of displacement). The list includes as “carriers” the USA’s much-smaller amphibious assault ships which cannot conduct full aircraft carrier operations, but are designed to transport marines and support them during their land operations via attack helicopters and perhaps V/STOL aircraft such a harrier jump-jets. The fourth link reveals that the USA’s large carriers are actually at what may be a historic level of unavailability for deployment to any warzone. The USS Enterprise is now being retired, leaving the USA with ten major aircraft carriers. As the article shows, only four US aircraft carriers are actually available for wartime service right now. All the other carriers are in various stages of refitting or upgrading.
Eventually China’s aircraft carrier will become a fully operational carrier with all the personnel and support ships needed to form a functional battle group. That time is likely years away. It is worth noting that China, flush with a surplus in its national reserves, is pouring money into building submarines and surface attack ships for its navy. Its interest in building carriers is much less of a priority. As I’ve noted in previous posts, I believe the Chinese have made a  strategic decision that aircraft carriers are far easier to sink than they are to defend in today’s combat environment that includes new supersonic and maneuverable cruise missiles, ballistic missiles specifically designed to hit moving aircraft carriers and new state-of-the-art torpedoes. The anti-carrier cruise missiles can be fired from land-, sea- and air-based platforms…all at once. How many hundreds of cruise missiles can an aircraft carrier battle group knock down before it runs out of interceptor missiles? Even if it successfully intercepts all missiles fired at it, once a carrier group runs out of defensive missiles, it becomes a sitting duck…unless our carriers are now in a major refitting program to equip them with new, top-secret defensive weaponry like plasma-rays or laser interceptor batteries. Indeed, in an all-out war (like what Ezekiel 38-39 prophesies is certain to occur in the future), are the US carrier defenses able to intercept nuclear-tipped missiles fired at the carrier group? Can they intercept and detonate them far enough away from the carrier group to allow the carrier group to survive?
These are questions US war planners have to consider and form defensive strategies to meet such threats. I sure hope the major refitting programs now underway for US aircraft carriers is to greatly enhance their survivability in all these threat environments!